I became re-acquainted with a man (we'll call him Gene) from my childhood and teen years this spring at my Step-dad's funeral. The first words out of his mouth before he even got out of the parking lot as I greeted him and his wife were in this title, and he was referring to me. I'd been close to his wife when I was younger, but I hadn't seen most of the people at this funeral since the mid-to-late 80's. As his wife and I hugged the breath out of each other, Gene beamed like he'd been somehow responsible for my survival himself and said those words: "Wow, Nickie. The one I was always so worried about. You look great."
Well, I was at my Dad's funeral, and the wheels were about to come off in a rather spectacular way for me emotionally and spiritually in a few minutes from this point (different post!), so it's taken me awhile to really fully process that phrase and what it really means, but my response at the time was "Thanks, good to see you too."
When reviewing that particular time in my life to which Gene was referring, I can certainly see why ANYONE would be "so worried" about me. I was a train wreck looking for somewhere to derail. My life at home was TERRIBLE, full of anger and emotional abuse and physical abuse and this awful spectre of potential sexual abuse. When I was about 13 or 14, Mom and I returned early unexpectedly from a weekend conference. In my usual style, I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I got in the door and there was this STACK of porn magazines on the laundry hamper. All I really remember is thinking that the girls looked like me, my age, build, general looks... and Dad was just a little too insistent on my "state of dress" to the monastic side of things, which just made everything more tense and weird. He never crossed that line with me, but it hung in the air like a bad smell for years until I moved out of the house. (I'm happy to say that he and I worked out many of these old issues long before he died, and of course, THIS scene is set at his funeral. Dad = Step-Dad, interchangeable for the purposes of my story. My Father, Rod, was someone else altogether, and that's a whole other story.)
By then, though, a LOT of damage had already been done by a man (we'll call him Mr. S) in our community of faith. He was OLD then, and was still living at the time of Dad's funeral, but he was Persian, and my parents are Baha'is, which is a religion that has come out of Iran since the mid 1800's. The reason that's relevant is because the leader of that religion was a Persian man named Baha'u'llah, and he didn't want his "likeness" copied in drawings or paintings (or, eventually photographs, I guess) because he claimed that he didn't want to be the object of worship, but that all the glory would go to God and the focus be on his message. Which is relevant because I had no other picture to place in my head of what that man actually looked like as I struggled with Mr. S who was molesting me weekly under the guise of teaching me to speak, read and write Pharsi while he insisted that I was "being silly" to reject him and pull away because he was "only showing me the love of God, of Baha'u'llah". For two years, from age 12 to 14.
I learned very early on with the abuse at home that there comes a time in those situations where it's better to "go away" inside your head someplace. I never questioned what it meant to "go to your happy place" though mine was never very happy, it was just ELSEWHERE. It was like my mind just showed up in a train station waiting for all the roaring to stop so it would be safe to leave again. I think the professionals call it "dissociating".
So I struggled for YEARS feeling like I wasn't firmly attached inside my skin. I tried to pray, but his face showed up instead of God, and THAT WAS A BIG PROBLEM. I asked for help. I TOLD PEOPLE WHO SHOULD HAVE HELPED ME, and I was told to be quiet because he was a respected elder in the community and I was just a troublemaker, and nobody would believe me anyway. And my home life was still terrible.
So I spent as much time as possible OUT. Out of the house, out of sight, out of control, and from a VERY young age, out of my clothing. I spent a lot of time babysitting other people's kids, and out with one boyfriend or another (for years and years I started stories with a phrase like: "When I was dating so and so" because those men were my entire frame of reference). I was a dangerous young girl, who was over sexualized at a very young and impressionable age, who had MAJOR daddy issues and really had love and lust and acceptance all messed up in my head.
So it's no wonder to me that Gene was worried about me. He's probably about 10 years older than I am, and I certainly flirted my butt off at him for years, but to his credit, he never flirted back. However, he never asked questions either. Not that I'd expect a 24-26 year old guy to sit down with a 14 year old girl who is behaving like an oversexed little idiot to have a heart-to-heart, but there were other people he could have asked to talk to me.
So I've recently discovered someone else's blog called momastery.com and she (Glennon, the author) posted THIS the other day: NETS and I really resonated with that post, because the death of my Dad brought me back to the place I grew up, and I had some very parallel experiences that she did. And I had already been asking myself that very question: "Where were the GODDAMN ADULTS? WHERE WERE THE GODDAMN HEALTHY PEOPLE? WHY DIDN'T THEY NOTICE ME?" And apparently, Gene had. But what was he supposed to do? What MORE was I supposed to do?
And what do we do NOW?
I fully believe that God uses our brokenness as avenues for Him to heal others if we let Him use us as conduits. I have deliberately reached out to a variety of places and people to serve, to help, to be a part of that net, because I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN A TEENAGED GIRL IS SET TO SELF-DESTRUCT. I've even reached out to a couple of girls that I can see are on this path, and they're SO jaded, SO damaged, that they don't believe that anyone can really care, which is why they're medicating with sex and drugs and alcohol in the first place. One of my good friends has a 14 year old daughter who is absolutely BENT on her path to teenaged pregnancy or some other truly life-altering drama. And they just WILL NOT LISTEN.
I'd like to think that if I'd been approached by someone willing to really get their hands dirty and get into my life and let me into theirs, that I would have eaten it up with a spoon, but by that point, every other woman was a rival and every man was a target. Seeds planted far earlier eventually bore fruit years and years later, but during my drowning phase all I could see was women in my way and cute lifeguards.